Anyone who frequents any type of social media has more than likely seen the abundance of '80s and '90s styled minis popping up from shows in Japan. Upon seeing the first few photos, I assumed that these guys were banging out new builds of retro styles. Some of these trucks are, in fact, current builds but others are artifacts from what was a mass importation into Japan from the States. In the mid-to-late-'90s there were companies that strictly dealt with exporting custom vehicles. Stories are told that guys from Japan would show up at the large shows on the west coast and purchase 10-20 high-end vehicles at a time. The purchase price was often two or three times the actual worth of the vehicle. A bit of research revealed a bit of info that I had either forgotten or had blown right by me. I guess a bit of history will best explain why we see so many cool rides in Japan including minis, muscle cars, hot rods, and lowriders.
After World War II, Japan banned importation from the states (I actually recall some of that from history class). Decades later, the ban on such importation was lifted causing an increase in exportation to Japan from the USA. It started with typical run-of-the-mill OE cars being imported by kids and families of the military. Soon after, Japan fell in love with the styling of the American vehicles that were being exported to Japan by the shiploads. The Big Three eventually stepped in and halted brand new vehicles from being exported into Japan. A short time later, exporters would find out that there was still a market for immaculate used vehicles, especially those with aftermarket parts and custom touches. The Japanese claimed custom vehicles as status symbols. They have as much of a love affair with American versions of minitrucks as we do for the quad-cabs that were never available here. The love for left-hand-drive is much like our love for right-hand-drive. Even things like butterfly windows to amber driving lights were admired. This love for American versions would only help the craze and the amount of vehicles exported. It was said that almost 500,000 vehicles came into Japan in the mid-to-late-'90s. Businesses specializing in exportation popped up all over the west coast. Custom shops also cashed in with customizing vehicles like the Chevy Astro van merely to load it on a boat bound for Japan. Buyers would flock to shows like California Truck Jamboree or The Lowrider Super Show with cash in hand simply to purchase 10-20 vehicles straight off the show grounds merely to send them straight to a warehouse awaiting the slow boat to Japan. This trend would later fall to its knees when Japan suffered an economical challenge due to the decrease in the value of the Yen as well as a banking crisis. The creation of eBay also forced many exporters out of business because it directly connected the buyer with the seller.
Among the countless vehicles that had been shipped to Japan during this period was my friend Ruben Arteaga II's '90 Toyota XtraCab. Ruben's Toy. It would seem like an odd vehicle to have been exported to Japan since it is in fact a Japanese truck but keep in mind that it wasn't a common commuter truck. At first glance, Ruben's Toy was rockin' an orchid pink metallic custom paint treatment, and upon further examination, you will find a plethora of chrome underhood as well as scattered throughout the chassis. The exterior was also treated to a full chrome package including a chrome lower valance and chrome hood cowl. Ruben's Toy sported a ground scraping appearance thanks to a C-notch and air shocks on all four corners along with Boyd Euro wheels, and the interior boasted a booming stereo system and custom upholstery.
When I asked Ruben if he regretted selling the truck, his reply was, "No". Ruben stated that after building the truck over the course of four years, not much was left to do but tear it apart again or sell it. Ruben does know the fate of the truck but respecting his wishes, you will only have to speculate or imagine (and no, it wasn't scrapped). One thing is certain, no matter if you are in Japan or America-this is one sexy truck! Until next time, whether you are across the pond or across the galaxy, build to be original not acceptable!